Friday, August 26, 2016

On Liturgical Customaries for Seminaries: An Example of Mutual Enrichment from the Anglican Patrimony

Easter Vigil from Nashotah House

One of the more rarified genres of liturgical arcana from the first part of the last century was the category of books in English for seminarians that introduced them to the complex world of Mass, Divine Office and devotions within the context of a spiritual and theological ethos.  It is clear that, as younger seminarians struggled to learn Latin, and comprehensive education in classical languages became thinner, seminarians needed a guide to absorb the Roman liturgical tradition as immediately and effectively as possible.  This entire genre of literature disappeared almost completely after Vatican II, as seminaries rode the wave of incessant liturgical experimentation that crashed upon the rest of the Church.  As I think about those books, I am reminded of Hyacinthe Cormier’s Instructions for Novices of the Dominican Order.  This genre of literature explained, in what seems to us now to be mind-numbing detail, all of the observances of the daily life of a cleric or religious.  But these works did so with the knowledge that developing the habit of external observances does have its effect on the soul.  While it may be true that the habit does not make the monk, there is a wisdom, which has unfortunately passed on, that what we do with the body does give a form to the soul, and can lead it, with proper dispositions of the soul formed by the development of the intellect, to virtue and to holiness.

I am told that nowadays some seminaries have attempted more precise handbooks of behavior in church and seminary, general rules of life.  I have not seen any of them myself.  In my day in the Pontifical Roman Major Seminary, everything from etiquette at table to liturgical decorum and expectations of clerical dress were all kind of an oral tradition that was passed from superiors to seminarians in the form of peer pressure to conform, rather than in any manual.

While it is true that many seminarians now have access to a sound formation in liturgical theology that may have been lacking in some places in a pre-Vatican II Church that exalted rubricism over the reason behind the rubrics, they may not always have very clear instructions as to how to behave in church and how to execute the ceremonies of the Mass.  Too many seminaries today find themselves burdened with faculty who are of various opinions about the way everything from Vespers to clerical vests should be done, as well as seminarians, at various stages of intelligence and formation, adding their voices to the din.  In many places, an uneasy house “tradition” begins to coalesce as faculty, seminarians and musical staff come to uneasy and highly provisional agreements on how to do things.  And then seminarians find themselves at the mercy of formators who are not in agreement among themselves, and then float in and out of houses of formation, leaving behind echoes of struggles over the very things that should be a part of the formative process.  In American seminaries, the pretense at giving seminarians a “voice” in matters liturgical then creates another layer of constantly changing expectations of every aspect of the liturgical life of a seminary formation house. 

Is there a better way? 

I can imagine that few seminary formators in the post-Vatican II Church want to create seminarians to be rubrical automatons, deprived of any pastoral sensitivity that is crucial for any priestly life in actual parishes with real people.  But could there be a model for some type of manual which delineates acceptable modes of behavior, while placing them in a spiritual and theological context, which is accessible to seminarians from their first year all the way to Holy Orders, something which could imprint upon them a forma mentis, or an ethos, of a legitimate liturgical spirituality, without becoming a framework for endless griping about every detail of seminary life?

Nashotah House, the premier seminary in the United States associated with the Anglo-Catholic world of Episcopal and continuing Anglican bodies, has produced just such a document.  This Customary  I think provides a useful framework for Catholic seminaries to produce very much needed similar documents that might guide more fruitful and peaceful discussions of seminary life in the future.  While it might be hoped that the USCCB could produce something, there is nothing to preclude individual seminaries from opting to graft onto the Nashotah House Customary structure a similar useful guide for their own use.

One of the interesting things to note is that the document is suffused with the presupposition that the 1979 Book of Common Prayer is the standard for the worship of the house.  It explains what that looks like in the context of seminary life.  At the same time it recognizes that there are other expressions of the Anglican liturgical patrimony which are part of the seminarians’ history and future as well as occasional celebrations within the house (such as the 1928 Prayer Book and the Anglican Missal).  Where I think this can be useful is that a Catholic seminary today can make normative the use of the Ordinary Form for corporate worship, without excluding, under common sense parameters, other forms of Catholic worship.  As the Nashotah document states, “By permission of the Dean, they may be used for other liturgies, provided that they do not compete with or take students from regularly scheduled community worship.”  There is no reason a document for Catholic use could not allow for such flexibility for the full range of Catholic worship while forming seminarians in the ordinary form of the Roman Rite as the normative use of the house.

The Nashotah document evidently is geared towards, not just the celebration of corporate worship in a seminary environment, but also towards the formation of leaders of that worship.  Hence there are excellent sections on the use of the voice in leading worship, and the spelled out expectation that “as poor vocal use can be detrimental to the life of ministry, when errors are detected, the Dean or faculty member with oversight of the chapel may direct for remedial exercises to be completed.”  In a very useful turn of phrase, we also read the excellent advice: “The assumption of accents, mannerisms not used in everyday speech, or performance-life effects are not tolerated in liturgical ministry.”  The document ably delineates realistic expectations of a proper ars celebrandi. 

A significant part of the document is dedicated to minutiae of the Anglican liturgical experience, but there is no reason why such could not be replaced by the parallel minutiae of Roman Mass, Office and devotions. There is also a sense in which the visible and audible expressions of progressive solemnity are spelled out.  This can be useful in the context of a Catholic seminary, where those expressions often become battles in which the lamentable hermeneutics of rupture vs. continuity are played out.  There is in the document a sense that everything has a place and everything is in its place, and is described in detail.  The lack of such instruction, written and agreed upon by the consensus of a seminary faculty, often leads, less to spontaneous creativity in the worship environment by discerning individuals, and more to needless conflict in the community. 

In Appendix 3 there is a very sound addendum the value of which I think would be seconded by most seminary faculty intent on securing some uniformity in worship, not only for good order, but to a good spiritual end:

A cautionary note on individual, personal ceremonial acts: almost everyone is tempted at one time or another to begin to practice some overt personal, unique, and idiosyncratic ceremonial acts— an extra sign of the cross, a kissing of the fingers, a deeply humble bow, some devout expressive hand movements, a genuflection, etc. While I do not doubt the sincerity of such acts, I vigorously caution against them! If they are being done overtly, then they are being done with the knowledge that they will be observed by others, and in our self-oriented culture, they can only involve a recognition that one will be seen as especially pious and devout. (“I am holier than thou!”) In fact, such actions are spiritually highly dangerous because they risk the judgment of Matthew 6:5 “Do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at street corners, so that they may be seen by others. Truly I tell you, they have their reward.” Better far to add wholly private ceremonies, i.e., making a sign of the cross on the thumb with the forefinger, a tiny cross on the forehead by the thumb covered by the hand, a closing of the eyes and a silent “Maranatha”, etc. The less pious you appear, the more truly pious you will fact.

Earnest seminarians who are wont to ostentatiously adopt what they perceive as pious practices during public worship are often offended by any suggestion that such practices are out of place.  Indeed, rebuking seminarians for them has often been a tool of rupture-hermeneutic minded formators to drill out of seminarians anything smacking of “traditional” piety.  At the same time though, a clear expectation of what is and what is not appropriate for corporate worship, especially when it conforms to the actual tradition of the Church, is very helpful in forming clerics to an ars celebrandi that truly thinks with the Church.
While this particular document is very particular to the needs of one Anglican seminary community, I think it also represents a common element of both Roman and Anglican patrimony which is crucial to the formation of those who lead corporate liturgical worship: the development of an ars celebrandi that is not only grounded in sound theology and law, but also explained in a practical way for seminarians to develop more than what used to be called priestcraft: instead, a heart for true liturgical worship.  It is my devout hope that more seminaries and religious houses may seek to appropriate a very good model for our own times.